Free Your Mind Of Doubt and Danger

A lot of people are meditating now. We’re all very stressed and we just don’t know what to do with all this pent up frustration and uncertainty. As a group, we seem to have decided the best way to quiet our minds is to sit silently for a set amount of time and then tell other people how silently we sat. I’m not convinced people even know what meditation actually is. I mean, some people definitely know, and to those people, I say “Ok, already. We get it. You’re better than us.” On the other hand, I don’t believe that all the men in beanies and women in overalls currently sitting crosslegged and humming in a charming Brooklyn studio have got it figured out.

Admittedly, I’m no expert. My entire experience with meditation consists of an app I once downloaded on my phone and a half-hour session with some very kind monks. I know it’s not the best range, but it feels sufficient enough for me to form a strong and unwavering opinion.

First, I downloaded a popular app. It tried to get me to breath in time with its visual aid, but I couldn’t sync up with the system, so it just turned out to be very stressful and I started to hyperventilate after messing up my natural breathing patterns. Then it kept trying to convince me to buy better versions of the app. That’s when I really started to see the truth in this whole business.

Still though, I was willing to give it a second chance. Last month, Dave and I spent the night at a beautiful Buddhist monastery in the mountains of Japan. As part of our stay, the monks offered to teach us how to meditate. I thought, “Well, a monk has to be a better teacher than a tiny robot computer.” So off we went. We sat on little pillows and learned how to hold our hands, cross our legs, and guide our thoughts. He was a pro and very kind about the whole thing, so I felt like I was in good hands.

Our monk told us we had to keep our eyes half-opened and half-closed, both to represent the space between this physical world and the universe and also to keep us from falling asleep. Because, he said, a lot of people fall asleep. Not a great selling point, sir.

Besides that, there were a few key things that really threw a wrench in my success.

Apparently, I was off on the wrong foot from the start. I was talking to Dave after the experience and sharing with him my disappointment in my own performance. He said, “Yeah, it was really difficult to focus on the letter A the whole time.” I said, “What? What about the letter A?” He said, “The monk told us to think of the letter A. It’s the holiest letter to them and their focal point for meditation. He told us all about it.” I replied, “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” So I guess I can add “poor listener” to my list of faults.

I also couldn’t keep my eyes in that half-way state. It gave me a headache and that seemed very counter to the goal of the exercise, so I gave up. (Also probably giving up is counter to the goal of the exercise?) Instead, I stared at the fire in front of us. Not because I was trying to find an otherworldly image on which to focus, but because I was just really cold. I was dreaming of making s’mores, grabbing a flannel blanket, and what I would do if the fire started to spread across the room at a rapid pace. The fire inspired a lot of diverse reactions in me, none of them sanctioned meditative thoughts.

Most importantly, it was impossible for me to quiet my mind. At any given point, I have three to seventy-eight thoughts swirling around my brain. It’s not an easy storm to weather, but it’s mine. This is exactly the thing that drives people to meditate. It’s supposed to cure people like me from the harrowing effects of our spiraling minds. But this seems like nonsense to me. Put me in a quiet room with nothing to do and tell me to think about a sound? Does that seem like a recipe for success for someone with my infliction? It’s not. It is a recipe for disaster.

I was an absolute and complete failure. I know, I know, the whole point of meditating is to eventually get to the point where it works, but at what cost? How long must I suffer in order to get there? And is it really worth it? Who ever said a quiet mind is better than a cluttered mind. You can hide a lot of cool stuff that you or someone you know might need one day inside a cluttered mind.

Here are some of the things I thought about while I was supposed to be focusing on the letter A, counting my breaths, and considering my quiet connection to the universe:

  1. It’s pretty cold in here, right?
  2. Aren’t all these other people cold? How can they not be cold?
  3. They’re probably cold and just pretending like they aren’t. Maybe I look like I’m pretending. Ugh, just another example of us all pushing the facade of perfection on one another.
  4. I wonder what we’re going to have for dinner. I hope there’s soup. Noodle soup would be best, but if it’s just regular soup with rice on the side, that would be fine too. Who invented soup? Probably someone who just accidentally spilled their water glass all in their food but was super embarrassed about it so just pretended like that’s how he wanted to eat it.
  5. These monks are very good inn keepers. Maybe some of them really just wanted to run a B&B, but they didn’t have the start-up capital, so they’re were like, “Well, guess I better go be a monk at one of the monk inns.” That seems like a big sacrifice for your dreams, but you know what they say—nothing comes between a man and his innate need to provide warm and comfortable lodging to strangers.
  6. When are we going to walk through the cemetery? It’s probably haunted. Maybe this whole place is haunted. What would a monk ghost be like? Probably super chill. He’d just sit quietly next to you and listen to you sleep. Wait, that’s creepy. I bet he’d respectfully sit outside your door while you sleep. This is definitely the best place to be if you’re going to get haunted.
  7. Monk would make a terrible monk. He’d be super good at the rituals but super bad at sitting on this pillow forever.
  8. Is Dave really doing this? He hasn’t moved at all.
  9. That fire looks a little precarious. What if it falls and spreads? These mats seem pretty flammable. The people in the back seem like panickers. That doesn’t bode well for us all exiting in an orderly fashion. But maybe I could break the paper walls and escape on my own. Would the monks be mad if I ripped their fancy walls? How could they be? The whole place will be on fire. They’ve got bigger fish to fry.
  10. Is Dave seriously still doing this?
  11. Someone moved. Ha. At least I didn’t move.
  12. Someone else moved. These people are so weak.
  13. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be comparing my meditative state to these other people. Even though I’m obviously better at looking like I’m meditating.
  14. Is Dave actually dead? Can you die sitting up?
  15. If you die sitting up in a room this cold, could you just freeze that way forever? How would they put you in a casket? Who cares. Caskets are really not eco-friendly. Why do people still do that? Who wants to be lined up in the dirt with a whole bunch of strangers. I hate strangers. I don’t even like sitting in a line with these strangers here right now. I am not interested in being stuck next to more strangers for all eternity.
  16. How long do these monks meditate each day? Do they wish they were watching tv instead? Or eating pretzels? Can monks even watch tv? Do they watch Monk?
  17. I wonder if I have any pretzels in the room. I should bring them on our cemetery tour.
  18. Is it disrespectful to bring snacks to a cemetery? It probably is.

And on and on and on. Overall, I would say I failed miserably at meditation. And if I can’t do it at a Buddhist monastery with a master teacher, should I really even keep trying? The monks say, “Yes, you definitely should. You will not master it in one day. That’s why it’s called a practice.” But what do they know.

A Long Time Ago, We Used To Be Friends

It’s been awhile, but I think of this blog and my throngs of readers as very good friends—and we all know you can neglect your real friends for huge stretches of time and they will just come back to you with love. No? You can’t? You need to be responsible and caring and thoughtful with the important relationships in your life or they risk shifting into something you never wanted? Damn it.

Well, here I am. Just a girl, sitting in front of the computer, asking you to sorta half-read this nonsense while you’re browsing for new towels or watching Real Housewives.

A lot has happened since I’ve been away.

First, the world is basically on fire (literally and figuratively, yay for global climate change!). We’ve got a president who is completely unqualified for the job and a government that is exploiting his ineptitude and arrogance for their own self-centered agendas. People are afraid of nuclear war again. White supremacists are still killing people in the streets, but this time the leader of our country isn’t condemning them. Women continue to be assaulted and exploited. Police officers are shooting people for no good reason and getting away with it. Civil wars and unrest around the world have forced families into danger and starvation.

I could keep going, but I’m finding myself falling into a spiral that’s not going to help any of us. Basically, a lot of very bad things happened last year.

It’s not all terrible though. Some good things have been rumbling around this planet. Women supported one another when we spoke up about the harm done to us. The hole in the ozone layer is shrinking. Scientists keep doing cool things like inventing insecticides that won’t kill bees, discovering planets that might support life, figuring out how to pull water out of low-humidity air, and proving Einstein’s theory of relativity. We met Fiona the hippo. Guinea Worm and polio are taking their final lap. More countries reached marriage equality.

Things have happened in my own life too.

I bought a house and embarked on a tumultuous but compassionate five-month-long relationship with a CB2 customer service manager. I visited Japan and Hawaii and Disney World and Cleveland and Banff National Park and Boulder and Michigan and Toronto. I survived a triathlon and suspected food poisoning (not at the same time). I tried to make vegan challah again and failed again. I learned a new series of bus lines in my city. I rode in a helicopter. I rode on a bullet train. I swam with a sea turtle. I marched on Washington and heard Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Janet Mock, America Ferrera, and Cecile Richards speak. I cheered on some badass women during a roller derby match. I wore my Chewbacca onesie in public twice. I stood in the rain for science. I stayed alive while a doctor put a camera down my throat into my stomach. I played soccer with a lot of random children. I saved a father and son from getting swept away into the ocean. I spent the night at a Buddhist monastery in the mountains, where I massively failed at meditation. I heard Steve Martin tell jokes and play the banjo. I bought cartoonish leggings in Harajuku surrounded by stylish teenagers.

I also wrote about some cool stuff for National Geographic, including a piece trolling Donald Trump that earned decidedly lukewarm reception on social media. A producer on The Walking Dead and the official comic book account tweeted out something I wrote about zombie tourism (not tourism for zombies, which is a piece I have now put on my brainstorm list), and we all know virtual pats on the back from famous-adjacent people are the real currency in this new world. I interviewed survival experts on how to prepare for disaster, told people what I love about Michigan, and wrote stories about outdoor skills in the apocalypse and adventuring like a Game of Thrones character. But mostly, since I officially became an editor, I spent a lot time helping other people write things, which is good since Cher Horowitz taught us “tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people.” Just kidding, it’s a mutual relationship, ’cause I gotta feed the content beast that is the internet. You people are insatiable.

So, here I am again. I’ve got a year’s worth of stories to tell you that have been taking up space in my brain, a year’s worth of opinions sitting on my chest. I hope you’ll come back to read them.